Here's another Yo story. I needed to charge my cellphone in the teachers' office. I dropped down on my hands and knees and crawled under my desk to plug the charging unit into the electrical outlet. Above me I heard Yo’s voice – more stern than I’ve ever heard it. "Carol, stand up. Let me do that."
Smiling to myself, I crawled backwards. He extended a hand and helped me to my feet. We exchanged positions, and he made the electrical connection – bumping his head on my desk in the process. He treats me like an empress every day.
Thanksgiving is coming fast. I've never seen turkey on a Chinese menu. Perhaps I'll eat donkey. Only kidding.
Last thought on birthday night: It doesn't matter that I'm a year older. Spirits are ageless.
November 23, 2009
Well, sometimes plans evaporate.
Yo was on his way to my apartment when he called from the bus idling two stops away. Chinese police were conducting some sort of routine vehicle check. Intending to walk the rest of the way, he asked the bus driver to let him out. The driver refused, saying it was against policy. "It's an emergency," Yo insisted. The driver opened the door. I like Yo’s sense of what is urgent – being with me.
We rendezvoused in front of Ito-Yokado, my favorite department store and supermarket combo, and set off for Honglingjin Park. The sun shone brightly, but the wind chill was daunting. I was bundled up and comfortably warm, but Yo wore neither hat nor gloves. Come to think of it, I've never seen him wear either.
Yo wore only a dress shirt and thin sweater under a lightweight tan jacket. I wasn't concerned, because I thought men from Inner Mongolia were cold resistant. As it turned out, Yo was chilled to the bone. Having a stoic nature, he didn't complain. Instead, he remained steadfastly cheerful and even cracked jokes as we retraced our steps along the winding park path. His tongue was so cold he could speak neither quickly nor clearly. His nose ran until he said it stopped because the nasal fluid froze inside his nose. When he forgot a simple English word I accused his brain of freezing too.
We spied the park gate and double-timed it across an elevated pedestrian bridge and into Ito-Yokado for a warm-up. It was there that Yo began disintegrating before my eyes – one body part at a time. To begin with he announced, very conclusively, that he was going to be sick. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He swallowed and said his throat was sore and dry, so he gulped some water from a plastic bottle he carried. He placed a palm across his forehead and said he had a fever, so he sat down. His head began to ache, so he closed his eyes. It wasn’t long before his ears began hurting, so he cupped a hand over each red ear. I was certain poor Yo would publicly perish.
Then, it happened – the utterly unforeseen and shocking. “Can we postpone your birthday dinner?” he said. “I need to go back to my dorm and sleep.” I was shattered, but what could I do? The poor guy was a mess. We decided to postpone dinner until Thursday – Thanksgiving night.
Yo needed to use the bathroom. I led him to the back of the department store and watched him walk directly into the ladies’ room. We realized the mistake after he was already inside with the door closed. I laughed as he rushed out saying he had startled all the women inside. Some startled women rushed out too.
When Yo was sufficiently fortified we walked to the bus stop. I waited with him in the sharp wind. "Don't waste your time, Carol. It's too cold. Go to your apartment."
"I won't leave you," I said.
We waited ten minutes. "Why are you still standing in the cold?" he asked.
“Because you’re my friend."
Another five minutes ticked by. He turned to me and said, "Thank you for waiting with me, Carol. You are my best friend." I smiled and nodded.
The bus pulled up, and the doors opened wide – like a dragon’s mouth. Yo stepped inside, and the doors clamped shut between us. We stood on opposite sides of the glass looking at one another. All we could do was wave as the bus sped off toward Chaoyangmen. It was a bittersweet day.
Servers brought plate after plate of raw food for us to cook at our table – including four plates of thinly sliced and rolled mutton from Inner Mongolia, a plate of tofu, a bowl of green leafy vegetables, and plates of sliced sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and what the Chinese call white carrots. They might be turnips, but I'm only guessing. Yo ordered a delicious sesame dipping sauce that we used for everything.
I took a few pictures of Yo. He took more of me. I had to laugh because before taking a picture I say, "Okay, one, two, three” and press the shutter release button. Yo says, "Okay, three, two, one” and snaps the picture. Not surprising. After all, we live on opposite sides of the planet.
Yo took charge of the hot pot when the seasoned broth began bubbling. He lifted a plate of raw mutton. Using his chopsticks, he adroitly slid the slices of rolled meat into the large pot. He did the same with one plate of raw vegetables after another. Sometimes I have a good chopsticks day, and sometimes I don’t. Tonight was pretty pathetic. I dropped every other morsel en route from pot to mouth. Yo was amused. I think he actually enjoyed helping me eat. He would gracefully swish his chopsticks through the soup, lift out cooked food, and place it in my bowl of sesame dipping sauce. I took it from there. A funny image popped into my head – Yo using chopsticks to direct our dinner the way a conductor uses a baton to direct an orchestra.
I don’t understand how most Chinese stay thin when they consume so much fat. They might as well drink cooking oil from a glass. Fat on meat makes it tastier to be sure, but it's hard for me to swallow – literally. When Yo wasn't looking, I removed most of the cooked meat from my bowl and placed it back into the pot. I estimate Yo ate three-and-a-half plates of meat to my half plate.
I chuckle at some of the English words Yo uses. He has a zillion of them swirling around in his head. Sometimes he chooses a word close to his intended meaning, but not quite on the mark. For example, we were waiting for strips of mutton to cook in the hot pot. "Is the meat ready to eat?" I asked.
"No, it isn't mature enough,” he replied.
A short time later he talked about people having secrets and said, "Some people have skeletons in their cupboard."
Copyright 2014 © Carol Ann Nix All rights reserved.
November 24, 2009
The Chinese government flipped on the nation’s heat switch. Hooray! My twelfth floor apartment is toasty warm now – partly due to whatever universal law causes warm air to rise. (I knew I should have taken physics in high school.) Fanzhidu School remains cold even with the influx of heat. I can stand it as long as I know I'll be cozy at night.
Thanks to Liz, we're up and running on our laptops. She's computer savvy. Thank goodness one of us is.
Wen Wen suggested I learn Chinese while I'm here. I laughed out loud. Chinese is an exquisite and melodious language, but complex and absolutely unintelligible to my English-friendly ears. I respect the Mandarin language too much to massacre it. I came to China knowing five Chinese words. I expect to leave knowing ten.
Too many Chinese have nasty looking teeth. I expect it of elderly grandmothers and grandfathers, but some of our university students shock me with their smiles. It's a pity. At first I attributed the phenomenon to what I call "rotten teeth syndrome" from simple lack of oral care. But Liz suggested an alternate cause – vinegar stains. The Chinese consume large amounts of dark, aged vinegar as dipping sauce. I’ll ask Wen Wen. She knows everything.
I recently survived three truly bizarre days. My teaching colleague Tony is in charge of keeping me a legal alien in China. He screwed up big-time when he missed an important deadline – the cutoff date for my completing a physical examination commonly called a body check. During a body check a team of Chinese doctors examines a foreigner to determine whether the person is suitably healthy to remain in the country.
Without going into boring detail, let me say that Tony seriously dropped the body-check ball. An official at the Beijing Security Bureau shoved a blank sheet of paper at him and told him to write the reason I missed the deadline. After a nervous pause, Tony began writing a full page of beautiful Chinese characters explaining his incompetence. To his credit he assumed full responsibility, apologized, and begged for mercy for both of us. The officer took Tony's plea for leniency under advisement.
This was serious stuff. My visa had expired, so I was in China illegally. The police could have arrested me. They could have booted me out of the country. As it turned out, a nice Communist official extended my work visa until August and only gave Tony a verbal reprimand. I didn’t even have to pay a fine. Thank God, Mom, Dad, my Guardian Angel, and the nice Communist official for keeping me in Beijing.
Lesson learned: Don’t miss deadlines!
Carol Ann Nix
November 26, 2009
Thanksgiving night. At long last Yo and I celebrated my birthday with a delicious hot pot dinner. The hostess was beautifully attired in a red, floor-length, traditional Chinese dress. She led us upstairs, down a long hallway, and into a small dining room. Our young female server assessed us and said, “You should have candles.” She sprinkled them around the table.
Yo ordered from a large picture menu book – literally a book. He knows my major culinary likes and dislikes. No organs. No weird-looking slimy mushrooms that look like organs. No large whole fish with eyes staring at me either mournfully or accusatorially.
We were in particularly high spirits laughing, talking, and teasing one another for several hours. Yo even sang his favorite Inner Mongolian folksong to me – the one that sometimes makes him cry. He wasn’t the least self-conscious about singing in public. He belted out the words with intense emotion. Yo is passionate about everything he does.
We saw all the major attractions in the park – a theme square named "Song of the Red Scarf," Ginkgo Square, a children's playground, and several groupings of impressive sculptures. We watched old men fly kites by the lake. Yo said he made kites and flew them when he was a little guy (his words). I dared him to make another and fly it with me in upcoming springtime winds. "I'm afraid I've forgotten how and would fail," he said.
"It wouldn't matter," I said. "We would just laugh. Don't worry about losing face with me."
During our long walk, Yo shared some personal information – something he rarely does. He said he had a girlfriend at Inner Mongolia University but never so much as held her hand. He's very old-fashioned when it comes to courtship.
As delicious as the eggplant tasted, even more delectable was watching Yo prepare it. He literally rolled up his sleeves for the prep work and pulled on a sweatshirt to serve as an apron. He didn’t want hot oil spotting his new white shirt. Poor Yo sweated like a steelworker in front of a blast furnace. He literally salted our food with the sweat of his brow. How the dear man suffered to feed me.
After dinner we turned on the DVD player and began watching a classic Indiana Jones movie. Yo had never heard of Indiana Jones. Can you imagine! He had to listen closely to understand the English dialogue. I suggested a break when he looked mentally fatigued halfway through the film. We snacked on almonds and looked at pictures stored on my laptop – pictures of my lake home and four Hoosier cats. He acted genuinely interested – didn’t yawn once. Of course I had to explain what a “Hoosier” is.
Yo knows I'll return to the U.S. at the end of the academic year. He asked if I would return to China someday. I didn’t commit at first. In the end I said yes – to be with him again.
November 19, 2009
My birthday began with Liz making M&M pancakes for breakfast. Marilyn (my friend and head of Fanzhidu School) took us teachers to lunch to celebrate. We sat around a large round table in an elegant, private dining room and ate dish after dish of delicious Chinese food. Marilyn surprised me with a chocolate brownie birthday cake. The writing on the cake was "Carol, Happy Birthday, Love."
At the end of the school day, students flooded the teachers' office. Smiling and laughing, they slipped a blindfold over my eyes and spirited me off to a classroom. A gorgeous cake delighted my eyes when they stripped away the eye cover. Someone placed a red paper crown upon my head, and everyone sang the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in English. A single sparkler on the cake resembled a 4th of July rocket in size and glare. I was Empress for a Day!
Yo and I plan a private birthday celebration this weekend. We will stroll in Honglingjin Park – a lovely publipark with a lake near my apartment. I'll ask him to begin at conception and tell me all about himself. I want to know everything. He fascinates me beyond words.
After the walk tires and mellows us, we'll return to my apartment and watch his choice of pirated movies. When we’re hungry he'll take me to a fine restaurant for Peking duck – a specialty in Beijing since the Imperial era. Yo considers Peking duck one of China’s national foods. I consider it one of China's best foods.
Here is a cute Yo story. Yesterday he and I sat making plans for his upcoming visit. Before finalizing them he said, “Should I ask Liz's permission to come to your apartment?” How traditional is that! So wonderfully old-fashioned. So honorable. I thought honorable men had gone the way of the saber-tooth tiger – but then I met Yo.